Cuba’s cautiously incremental economic reforms are prompting a new debate over the U.S. embargo which challenges “the longstanding logic that broad sanctions are necessary to suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raul Castro,” The New York Times reports.
“Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hard-liners,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group. “What we should be doing is helping the reformers.”
Any easing would be a gamble. Free enterprise may not necessarily lead to the embargo’s goal of free elections, especially because Cuba has said it wants to replicate the paths of Vietnam and China, where the loosening of economic restrictions has not led to political change. Indeed, Cuban officials have become adept at using previous American efforts to soften the embargo to their advantage, taking a cut of dollars converted into pesos and marking up the prices at state-owned stores.
Even these adjustments — which could also include travel for all Americans and looser rules for ships engaged in trade with Cuba, according to a legal analysis commissioned by the Cuba Study Group — would probably mean a fierce political fight.
“The sanctions on the regime must remain in place and, in fact, should be strengthened, and not be altered,” says Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Responsible nations must not buy into the facade the dictatorship is trying to create by announcing ‘reforms’ while, in reality, it’s tightening its grip on its people.”
While Raúl “has a freer hand to advance needed economic reforms, and possibly even to seek improved relations with the United States,” notes one observer, “he has only cautiously departed from the sacred Fidelista policies of the past, constrained by hard liners devoted to his brother and by corruption and bureaucratic intransigence.”
‘But as Raúl speaks of eliminating the regime’s history of ‘paternalism, egalitarianism, and idealism’ he means Fidel’s dogmatic policies that now seem likely to be more systematically discarded,” writes Brian Latell, senior research associate in Cuba Studies at the University of Miami.
Furthermore, despite its recent overtures, the Communist regime “has a long history of tossing ice on warming relations” with the US, The Times notes:
The latest example is the jailing of Alan Gross, a State Department contractor who has spent nearly three years behind bars for distributing satellite telephone equipment to Jewish groups in Havana….. The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act conditioned the waiving of sanctions on the introduction of democratic changes inside Cuba. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act also requires that the embargo remain until Cuba has a transitional or democratically elected government…. Following the legal logic of Mr. Obama’s changes in 2009, further expansions in travel are possible along with new allowances for investment or imports and exports, especially if narrowly applied to Cuban businesses.
Cuba this week accused the Obama administration of helping dissidents access the internet by “promoting… financing and supplying” activists using “diverse media” in order to undermine the regime.
Diplomats from the US Interests Section were “permanently inciting these people… to undertake provocative actions… and act against the Cuban constitutional order,” Havana said.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the section did offer free internet courses for Cubans as well as access to computers – like all other US missions – but denied that diplomats were working to subvert the Cuban government.
The US promoted “freedom of access to information around the world,” she said. “Obviously, this wouldn’t be necessary if the Cuban government didn’t restrict access to the internet and prevent its own citizens from getting technology training.”
The authorities are evidently concerned about an upsurge in civic activism on the island and security forces recently arrested advocates of the Demand for Another Cuba initiative. The wave of arrests included such leading activists as the celebrated blogger Yoani Sanchez and European Parliament Sakharov Award winner Guillermo Fariñas. The arrests were condemned by international organizations, including the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy.
Several activists appearing in this short film outlining the Campana Por Otra Cuba were among those arrested. The activists have reportedly been released, except for Antonio Rodiles, the campaign’s national coordinator, who will be held in custody until his yet-to-be-scheduled trial on charges of “resistance to arrest.” Amnesty International has issued an urgent action calling for his release.
The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights has launched a signature gathering campaign – Campaña por la liberacion de Antonio Rodiles – and it is public awareness of the case through social media such as Twitter, using the hashtags #FreeRodiles, #OlaRepresiva and #LibertadAhora.
The Demand for Another Cuba initiative was highlighted at a recent global gathering of democracy activists which viewed the premier of a new video (above) featuring activists from the island, including Rodiles. He described the campaign as a “citizen initiative to demand the Cuban government’s ratification of the covenants of the United Nations, whose implementation could create a scenario for the transition to democracy.”
The meeting in Lima, Peru, honored Cuba’s pro-democracy movement with the World Movement for Democracy’s Courage Tribute.
Despite the fierce repression of political dissent and a culture of fear in which ordinary people and independent-thinking Cubans are afraid to speak up, a wide spectrum of organizations and individuals continue to advance democracy and human rights at great personal risk. Pro-democracy activists are routinely imprisoned, detained, denied or dismissed from employment, and otherwise harassed. Under a “dangerousness” provision in Cuba’s penal code, the state can imprison individuals on suspicion that they may commit a crime in the future.
In the past year, two eminent democracy activists, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá, died under strange circumstances. Yet Cuban advocates for change continue to take advantage of whatever space is afforded them however small, using new technologies to circumvent government censorship and finding innovative ways to collaborate on advocating issues of concern to ordinary citizens.
The tribute was presented to the pro-democracy movement of Cuba by World Movement Steering Committee Member Carlos Ponce presented the tribute to Regis Iglesias Ramirez, a leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, founded by the late Payá. Iglesias worked as a principal organizer of the Varela project – a citizen petition campaign for democratic reforms under the provisions of the Cuban Constitution. He was one of 75 democracy activists imprisoned during the “Black Spring” of 2003. Sentenced to 18 years in jail, he served his time in isolation, until his release into exile in Spain in 2010.
Iglesias said that he accepted the award on behalf of all those who were not free to leave their country and accept the award in person. He called upon the international community to demand an investigation of Payá’s death, and added that “we need all of our Latin brothers and sisters to be on the side of the Cuban people.”